Month: January 2012

Phones can be Personal Assistants

Mobile phones are no longer just communication devices. They are also used as follows:
a) As consoles for entertainment
b) As personal task management and planning tools

Keeping the second use in mind, it would be in the cell phone manufacturers’ best interests to develop highly integrated task management tools for cell-phones.

Cell phones today lack seamless integration between the email and SMS applications and the task management applications.

When SMS messages or Email messages are received by the user about a task, there is little to no assistance in transferring the relevant data to a task management application.

What seems to be needed is a way to assist the user in capturing the information related to the task and moving it to a third-party task management application on the cell-phone.

But intention recognition algorithms can do just that!

If an SMS says “What is the name of the person we met the other day?” it should be possible to detect that this is an inquiry and that the recipient now has the task of sending a response.

Another example is the following SMS “Can you please send me the draft report by 2 pm”. This SMS contains a directive and the recipient now has a task to complete by a deadline.

Yet another example is the following “Would 4 pm work for you?” This is a meeting request.

These categories of tasks can be identified by looking at incoming and outgoing SMS messages and classifying them into various categories of tasks.

There is also an entity extraction task involved (identifying the deadlines and time ranges).

Once task intentions are identified, the phone could take the following steps:
a) The phone confirms with the user whether or not a task needs to be created.
b) The phone passes the task to the user’s preferred task management tool.

I just wanted to point you to an interesting dissenting view from a Google engineer. In the blog post “Will Google fight Apple’s Siri with Alfred?“, Alexei Oreskovic quotes Google’s head of mobile Andy Rubin as saying:

“I don’t believe that your phone should be your assistant. Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.”

However, the same article also says the following:

“On Tuesday Google said it had acquired the tech company that has developed Alfred, a smartphone app that acts as a “personal assistant” to make recommendations based on your interests and your “context,” such as location, time of day, intent and social information.”

Event and Fact Analysis

In the post “Intent on Intentions”, I’d talked a bit about the Speech Act Theory of Searle and Winograd.

In this blog post, I’d like to look at all other utterances. What purpose do utterances have if they are meaningful, but are not a Speech Act?

It turns out that meaningful utterances that do not convey Speech Acts, typically convey information. Information in turn comes in two flavours – events and facts. Facts represent states of the world (they describe relations between entities or describe properties of entities). Events represent changes.

For example, “London is in England” is a fact, whereas “London Bridge is falling down” is an event.

Entities are the things being talked about. In the sentences used to illustrate events and facts above, the following entities may be observed: “London”, “England” and “London Bridge”.

The distinction between intentions, events and facts is not watertight. There are times when utterances can cross the boundaries and fall into more than one of these categories.

Interestingly, there are different uses for the three kinds of text analysis (analysis of intention, analysis of events, and analysis of fact) and types of data that they may be applied to.

Data Sources

  • Event Analysis: News articles, because news
    reports are always about important happenings or changes in the state of the world, and
    hence are rich with events and also with facts.
  • Fact Analysis: Wikipedia, other Encyclopedias and Knowledge Bases are full of facts,
    but don’t necessarily report current events.
    They may contain information on events that
    took place in another age.
  • Intention Analysis: Emails Messages, Customer Feedback, Social
    Media Messages

Enterprise Applications

  • Event Analysis: Media Monitoring Tools,
    Opportunity Identification Tools, Conformance and Discovery Tools
  • Fact Analysis: Enterprise Search, Semantic
    Web, Logic and Inference Engines
  • Intention Analysis: CRM Tools, Collaboration Tools, Task Management Tools, Communication Devices

Here is a link to a whitepaper on the topic of doing a 360 degree analysis of text.